Once upon a time

July 14, 2008

I am just completing a chapter for a book on Organizational Memory. It is due today US time, and I am 16 hours ahead in New Zealand so I may make it! I am arguing strongly for a fragmented and dynamic approach to memory, rather than that static approach represented by content focused KM approaches and (as mad and bad) recording and archiving of complete stories from people as they approach retirement. For the moment I thought I would share the opening two paragraphs

Once upon a time when people joined organisations with the reasonable expectation of a job of life, apprenticeships were common place and indirect communication was limited to the office memo and the telephone; not many people talked about organisational memory. In an earlier age the oral tradition allowed complex knowledge to evolve through the interaction of those stories with the day to day realities of living; then the very idea of organisational knowledge would have been incomprehensible. In both of these cases knowledge was a living, evolving entity not a static repository of information. In the West our oral tradition suffered at the hands of Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm who wrote down the stories, so that in the modern day they seem quaint, they have not evolved. A decade of knowledge management practice has focused on a largely forlorn attempt to codify what people know into best practice documents. Even those who adopt the use of story seem to have a tendency to create archive recordings of material. The living, evolving and creatively messy tradition of our near and distant ancestors appears lost in an over enthusiastic attempt to create highly “chunked” knowledge artifacts at the expense of knowledge dynamics and learning.

In this chapter I will outline an approach to organisational memory which recognises the importance of fine granularity knowledge objects, linked and connected to current realities. I will emphasis the need for serendipitous and contextual encounters with any such knowledge objects, and the need to modify and blend them on the fly. In doing this I will look at the impact of social computing on the field of knowledge management and the use of narrative databases which together and to a degree mirror the oral tradition and apprentice models of knowledge transfer and creation. I will do this by introducing a set of theoretical arguments, in part drawn from the natural sciences to set the scene. This will be followed by a brief summary criticism of existing approaches in the field and will then conclude by elaborating the approach summarised at the start of this paragraph.

All any any comments and questions welcome

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